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The Mattocks Deal: A Measured Bet

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

It’s official: After three years of smoke there is finally fire to the Portland Timbers acquiring Darren Mattocks from the Vancouver Whitecaps, as on Monday the Timbers and ‘Caps completed the deal for the Jamaican forward in exchange for targeted allocation money in 2016, general allocation money in 2017, and a 2017 international roster spot.

This comes, of course, as little surprise. Following on a Friday report from RJR News in Jamaica, on Saturday Weber confirmed the Whitecaps and Timbers have completed a deal. As usual we don’t know how much allocation money crossed (and, as it turns out, will cross) the border, but the tea leaves surrounding the deal tell us a lot.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the deal from the Whitecaps end is that it happened before the second week of the season, when teams are trying to finalize their rosters as the regular season begins. Moreover, with addition of Christian Bolanos in the midfield and Blas Perez and Masato Kudo up top, it was hard to see how Mattocks fit into Carl Robinson’s 2016 setup considering his 2015 struggles. In short the Whitecaps are dealing Mattocks not out of opportunity but because they have to as a salary dump.

So from the Whitecaps end it seems likely the return for Mattocks was pretty modest. Salary dumps, simply put, don’t tend to be terribly lucrative. And if there was a robust market for Mattocks, it seems likely the deal would have been completed before the season began and when a potential trade partner could bring Mattocks into camp to get fit.

Moreover, of all the teams the Whitecaps would like to deal Mattocks to, the Timbers -- a Cascadian and major Western Conference rival -- were certainly toward the bottom of the list. Although Mattocks has certainly struggled for the Whitecaps, he’s been good for Jamaica recently, scoring 6 goals in 14 Reggae Boyz appearances in 2015. Thus, there is a straight-faced argument to be made that Vancouver was simply a poor fit for Mattocks, and, as his performance for Jamaica demonstrates, the Jamaican could thrive elsewhere in MLS. And the Whitecaps would certainly prefer if Mattocks thrived for a team that wasn’t the Timbers.

Finally, for the Timbers the Mattocks addition is a signing of opportunity rather than urgent need. The Timbers’ two-deep is set at striker with the first-choice Fanendo Adi and the more-than-adequate Jack McInerney as a backup. And although the Timbers could use additional depth on the wing, with the addition of Jack Barmby on the wings they’re not as desperate for somebody to step in on that wing as they were two weeks ago. Simply put, a stiff acquisition fee plus Mattocks’s reported $272,000 2015 salary (or anything close to it, for that matter) would be a huge amount to spend on projected multi-positional depth up top and on the wing.

Like the Whitecaps, therefore, it seems likely the amount that the Timbers would be willing to pay for Mattocks would be fairly modest.

And salary notwithstanding, acquiring a player who scored 6 goals in 14 caps the year prior for a regionally respectable national team in exchange for a modest amount of allocation money spread over two years carries with it some upside. If the Timbers get that kind of production -- or anything even close to it -- the deal will represent strong value for the Timbers. On the MLS pay scale, somewhere near $275,000 is a reasonable wage for a player who will come in and score 8 or 10 goals in all competitions.

But Mattocks also undoubtedly represents risk for the Timbers. His form with the Whitecaps in 2015 was just a notch above abysmal. Mattocks’s MLS campaign in 2015 brought career lows in minutes, goals (tied), assists (tied), shots, and shots on goal. If that is the production that the Timbers can expect from Mattocks in 2016, the Timbers will have hamstrung their 2016 salary-cap situation for a player whose frustrations outpace his production.

Simply put, when the dust settles on this deal and people look back on how the two sides fared in this deal, it seems likely that one side is going to look pretty good and the other is going to look pretty bad.

Caleb Porter and the Timbers are placing a bet that they can bring out of Mattocks what he’s shown for Jamaica. And there’s reason to think they may be right: Mattocks played perhaps his best soccer outside the Reggae Boyz setup for Porter at Akron. And given the potential upside, the buy-in on the Timbers’ bet represents decent value.

Don't mistake that, however, for Mattocks coming cheap and not carrying risk; he clearly isn’t and he clearly does. But given Mattocks’s present-day success with Jamaica and his past success at Akron under Porter’s tutelage, the bet the Timbers are taking on Mattock seems like a measured one.